Saturday, May 12, 2007

On The Wealth of Nations: P. J. O’Rourke

One of America’s leading political satirists turns his eye on Adam Smith – but not with satiric intent. On The Wealth of Nations is the first in The Atlantic Monthly’s “Books That Changed The World” series.

It is tempting to deride the series as a Cliffs Notes equivalent of non-fiction, but this definitely is a useful attempt to render some of the classics into a crisper, more relevant, modern form, complete with current examples and case studies.

And you can do worse than to start with The Wealth of Nations. Unarguably one of the most influential and seminal works in the field of Economics (and may I suggest, business?), it is also arguably one of the most imposing, what with its door-stopping size. And in converting it into a sub-200 page modern version, P. J. O’Rourke has re-created a masterpiece, nay, created a modern masterpiece.

P. J. captures the simplicity of Adam Smith’s fundamental propositions – pursuit of self-interest, division of labor, and freedom of trade – and demystifies the more complex explanations and logic. His trademark satire (the book is worth reading for the humor alone!) and the fluidity of his language make this book a most entertaining and insightful read. The success of the book lies in how P. J. not only presents Adam Smith in a modern context, but also explains some of the more recent economic changes like the rise of the service economy and outsourcing in terms of what Adam Smith had written. And from a human perspective, how he manages to give us a picture of the man Adam Smith.

Another good feature of the book is that P. J. doesn’t just interpret Adam Smith. He takes a position on Adam Smith’s thoughts – and even disagrees with some of them, and offers his counter-views. This makes for interesting reading because it offers the reader an opportunity to take positions and analyze things from that perspective.

At times, P. J. does give you a sense that he is critical of Adam Smith’s writing style (… the book Smith made reads like an FBI wiretap transcription, except with deeper thoughts and no swear words.), but I think it is worth bearing that inasmuch as P. J. O’Rourke’s writing style is relevant to our times, so was Adam Smith’s in his. Which is precisely the reason this series sounds like a good idea. Keep reading, P. J. What next? You seem to be hinting at Friedrich A. Hayek’s Road to Serfdom?


dark reiver said...

Interesting blog you have here! Are blogs, writings relevant to our times?

De Scribe said...

Thanks, dark reiver. I am not sure I understand your question. Do you want to elaborate?